Sri Aurobindo’s Earliest Draft of Savitri (1916): Fourth Installment

Dear Friends,

Sri Aurobindo had started working on the earliest draft of Savitri in August 1916. Nirodbaran, who has portrayed how Savitri reached its final form in his Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo, writes about this draft:

“The draft exists in two sections. The first comprising Book I and a few pages of Book II… Book I is complete, Book II unfinished. The spelling of the three chief characters is: Savithri, Uswapathy, Suthyavan. In the first Book, after a short description of Night and Dawn, there is a very brief account of the Yoga done by Uswapathy, then Savithri is born, grows up and goes out, at Uswapathy’s prompting, to find her mate. She finds Suthyavan. In the meantime Narad comes down to earth and visits Uswapathy’s palace. There is a talk between the two; Savithri returns from her quest and discovery, and a talk takes place among the three.” (pp. 173-174, 1995 edition)

We are happy to announce that Overman Foundation has received permission from Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust to publish the earliest draft of Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri in its online forum. We are extremely grateful to Shri Manoj Das Gupta, Managing Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, for giving us the said permission.

The first three installments of the earliest draft of Savitri were published in the online forum of Overman Foundation on 4 April, 9 April and 16 April 2013 respectively. The fourth installment which marks the end of Book I of the epic is published here.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee

Founder,
Overman Foundation.

*

SÂVITHRÎ

BOOK I

(Continued)

In haste the father cried aloud, “O girl,
Around a fated head thy wings have flown.
Mount, mount thy car and travelling through the lands
Choose one more happy for thy fruitful couch.
Let not the obscure hand seal up too soon
The sweet perennial fountain of thy joys.
Not with this boy thy virgin life shall flower,
But the long glory of thy days lies dead
And vain the promise of the flaming gods.”
But Sâvithrî replied with steadfast eyes
That saw the forest verge and Suthyavân;
“Once I have chosen, once the garland fell.
Whether for death or life, for joy or tears,
Two hearts have joined and shall not be divorced
By human wills or by the gods’ strong hands.”
So spoke she from her sweet and violent soul
Awakened to dangerous earth; but Uswapathy
Made answer to her from the father’s heart:
“My daughter, who in this frail world belongs
To whom? Who is the husband? who the child?
Are they not shadows in thy dreaming mind?
The body thou hast loved, dissolved, is given,
Lost in the brute unchanging stuff of worlds,
To indifferent mighty Nature who shall make it
Crude matter for the joy of others’ lives.
But for our souls, upon the wheel of God
For ever turning they arrive and go
Vain atoms in the whirling cycles vain,
Married and sundered in the magic round
Of the great Dancer of the boundless dance.
Thy emotions are but sweet and dying notes
In his wild music changed compellingly
From hour to hour. To cry to an unseized bliss
Is the music’s meaning. Caught, the rhythm fades,
The sense has fled! only coarse-fibred joys
Are given us that abase with useless pain.
Sated the lax heart loathes its old desires;
Love dies before the lover. None belongs
Even to his nearest, but all to one far Self
Constant, alone and hushed who cares for none.
O child, obey not then thy clamorous heart’s
Insistence, thinking thy desires divine.
Live by a calmer law. Strengthen thy life
By work and thought, give succor to thy soul,
With rich utilities help others’ days,
So shalt thou greaten to abiding peace.”
But Sâvithrî replied with steadfast eyes,—
Calm now her heart and tender like the moon.
“Now have I known my glad reality
Beyond my body in another’s being;
I have perceived the changeless soul of Love.
How then shall I desire a lonely good,
Or slay, aspiring to white vacant peace,
The hope divine with which my soul leaped forth
From flame eternal, rapture of one vast Heart
And tireless of the sweet abysms of Time
Deep possibility always to love?
This, this is first, last joy, against whose throb
The riches of a thousand fortunate years
Feel poverty. What to me are death and life
And other men and children and my days,
Since only for my soul in Suthyavân
I treasure the rich occasion of my birth
And sunlight and the emerald ways he treads,—
If for a year, that year is all my life.
Once only can the die for ever fall
And, being thrown, no god can alter more
Its endless moment. Once the word leaps forth
And being spoken sounds immortally
For ever in the memory of Time.
Only once can my heart of woman choose.
For what my heart has seen, my lips can speak
That only and my servant body do.
This is the yoke that God has laid on me
And on the road He traced my life must run.”
She spoke and Nârad smiled and rising high
Sprang like a fire into his roseate heavens
Chanting the anthem of triumphant love.
So was it as the heart of Sâvithrî
Tender and adamant decreed. Her father
Journeying with brilliant squadrons and a voice
Immense of chariots bore her from her bowers
Of golden beauty to the rude bare hut
Of Dyumathsena in the dim-souled huge
Inhuman forest far from cheerful sound
Of man’s blithe converse mid his crowded days.
Leaving behind their glittering companies
The king and his two queens with thorns assailed
And stumbling feet on the faint gloomy path
Reached the rough-hewn ascetic hut and gave
Their cherished nurseling to the blind old king
And that poor labour-worn and ageing queen
To be their daughter and their servant there
Through the hard strenuous days. With tearful eyes
And a dull burden on their hearts they blessed
The brief-lived husband of her fatal choice,
Then went back to their life of vacant pomp
Empty of her. There for one year she dwelt
With Suthyavân and with his parents sole
In the tremendous wood amid the cry
Of crickets and the tiger’s nightly roar,
Defenceless to the forest’s whisper vast
And sunlight and the moonlight and the rain.
For now the grief she had trod down seized on her;
And though she served all diligently, nor spared
Strict labour with the broom and jar and well
And gentle personal tending and the piled fire
Of altar and kitchen, no task to others allowed
Her woman’s strength might do, not with these things
Her heart was, but with love and secret pain
She dwelt like a dumb priest with hidden gods.
Her spirit like a sea of living fire
Possessed her lover, clinging—one vast embrace
Around its threatened mate. Her quivering passion
Intolerant of the poverty of Time
Strove to expend whole centuries in a day.
Ever her mind remembered Nârad’s date
And, trembling sad accountant of its riches,
Reckoned the insufficient dawns between.
So feeding sorrow and terror with her heart
She lived in dread expectancy: or else
Fled from it vainly into abysms of bliss
To meet worse after-sorrow; for then she felt
Each day a golden page torn cruelly out
From her too slender account of joy. She uttered
No moan, but by her natural silence helped
Lived lonely in the secret clutch of tears.
Often she yearned to cry, “O Suthyavân,
O lover of my soul, give more, give more
Of love while yet thou canst to her thou lovst;
For soon we part and who shall know how long
Before the great wheel in its monstrous round
Restore us to ourselves?” For well she knew
She must not clutch that happiness to die
With him and follow seizing on his robe,
Travelling our other countries, voyagers glad
Into the sweet or terrible beyond,
Since that poor king and queen would need her long
To help the empty remnant of their life.
Strong she pressed back the cry into her soul
And dwelt within silent, unhelped, alone.
And still she knew that only surface seas
Were spume to these loud winds; a greater spirit
Calm-winged and watching all to every pain
Assented largely in its strength and joy.
Nor would she once have given tortured days
Half hell, half heaven, of terror and delight
For all the griefless bliss that Time could give
Without him. Suthyavân with the dim answer
Of our thought-blinded hearts perceived her clasp
Of love and anguish round him, vaguely knew
Some doom behind, and what his days could spare
From labour in the forest hewing wood
With his strong arm or gathering sacred grass
Or hunting food in the far sylvan glades
Or service to his father’s sightless life
He gave to her and strove to increase brief time
With lavish softness of heart-seeking words
And all the inadequate signs that love must use.
All was too little for her dreadful need.
Yet grew they into each other ever more
Until it seemed no power could rend apart
Since even the body’s walls might not divide.
For when he wandered in the forest, still
Her conscious spirit walked with his and knew
His actions as if in herself he moved.
He, less aware, thrilled with her from afar.
Grief, fear became the food of mighty love.
Tortured more fiercely, more her soul dilated
Till measureless it grew in strength divine,
An anvil for the blows of Fate and Time,
Unslayable like the gods. Last grief became
Calm, dull-eyed, resolute as if awaiting
Some unknown issue of its fiery struggle,
Some deed in which it might for ever cease
Victorious over itself and death and tears.
Fast the days fled. The rains rushed by; autumn
Hastened his pace serene; winter and dew
Their glories moist or cold ended too soon;
Spring bounded by armed with the cuckoo’s plaint,
Piercing her heart with beauty of his flowers.
Then summer like a stately king came in
In opulent purple and in burning gold.
She hated not his mornings and his eves,
But rather besought that they would linger out
Their careless glories, though he seemed to her
Indifferent doom in heartless splendour clad
Who hid with his bright hands the death of joy.
Swiftly the fated day came striding on.

Now it was here in this great golden dawn
By her yet sleeping husband lain she gazed
Into her past like one about to die
Looks back upon the sunlit fields of life
Where he too ran and sported with the rest,
Lifting his head above the huge dark stream
Before he plunges down. She lived again
The whole year in a swift and eddying race
Of memories. Then she arose and service done
Bowed down to the great goddess simply carved
By Suthyavân upon a forest-stone.
What prayer she breathed, her soul and Doorga knew.
Perhaps she felt in the dim forest huge
The infinite mother watching over her child,
Perhaps the shrouded Voice spoke some still word.
At last came to the pale mother queen
And spoke: “For one full year that I have served
Thee and the aged king and my dear lord
I have not gone into the silences
Of this great forest that enringed my thoughts
With mystery nor in its green miracles
Wandered, but this small clearing was my world.
Now has a strong desire seized all my heart
To go with Suthyavân holding his hand
Into the life that he has loved and touch
Herbs he has trod and know the forest flowers
And hear at ease the birds and scurrying life
That starts and ceases, rich far rustle of boughs
And all the mystic whispering of woods.
Release me now and let my heart have rest.”
She answered, “Do as thy wise mind decrees,
O calm child-sovereign with the eyes that rule.
I hold thee a strong goddess who has come
Pitying our barren days, so dost thou serve
Even as a slave might, so art thou beyond
All that thou doest, all our minds conceive
Like the strong sun that serves earth from above.”
So the doomed husband and the wife who knew
Went with linked hands into that solemn world
Together. Suthyavân walked full of joy
Because she moved beside him through the green.
He showed her all the forest’s riches, flowers
Innumerable of every colour and hue
And soft thick clinging creepers green and red
And strange rich-plumaged birds, to every cry
That haunted sweetly distant boughs, replied
With the shrill singer’s name more sweetly called.
He spoke of all the things he loved: they were
His boyhood’s comrades and his playfellows,
Coevals and companions of his life
Here in this world whose every mood he knew.
Their thoughts which for the common mind are blank,
He shared, to every wild emotion felt
An answer. Deeply she listened, but to hear
The voice that soon would cease from tender words
And treasure its sweet cadences beloved
For lonely memory. Little dwelt her mind
Upon their sense; of death, not life she thought.
Love in her bosom hurt with the jagged edges
Of anguish moaned at every step with pain
Crying, “Now, now perhaps his voice will hush
For ever.” Even by some vague touch oppressed
Sometimes her eyes looked round as if their orbs
Might see the dim and dreadful god approach.

But Suthyavân had paused. He meant to finish
His labour here that happy, linked, uncaring
They two might wander free in the green deep
Primeval mystery of the forest’s heart.
Wordless but near she watched, no turn to lose
Of the bright face and body which she loved.
Her life was now in seconds, not in hours
And every moment she economised
Like a pale merchant leaned above his store,
The miser of his poor remaining gold.
But Suthyavân wielded a joyous axe.
He sang high snatches of a sage’s chant
That pealed of conquered death and demons slain,
And sometimes paused to cry to her sweet speech
Of love or mockery tenderer than love.
She like a pantheress leaped upon his words
And carried them into her cavern heart.
But as he worked, his doom upon him came.
The violent and hungry hounds of pain
Travelled through his body biting as they passed
Silently and all his suffering breath besieged
Strove to rend life’s strong heart-cords and be free.
Then helped, as if a beast had left its prey,
A moment in a wave of rich relief
Reborn to strength and happy ease he stood,
Rejoicing, and resumed his confident toil
But with less seeing strokes. Now the great woodsman
Hewed at him, and his labour ceased. Lifting
His arm he flung away the poignant axe
Far from him like an instrument of pain:
She came to him in silent anguish and clasped,
And he cried to her, “Sâvithrî, a pang
Cleaves through my head and breast as if the axe
Were piercing there and not the living branch.
Such agony rends me as the tree must feel
When it is sundered. Let me lay my head
Upon thy lap and guard me with thy hands.
Perhaps because thou touchest, death may pass.”
Then Sâvithrî sat under branches wide,
Cool, green against the sun; not the hurt tree
Which his keen axe had cloven, that she shunned,—
But leaned beneath a fortunate kingly trunk
She guarded him in her bosom and strove to soothe
His anguished brow and body with her hands.
All grief and fear were dead within her now
And a great calm had fallen. The wish to lessen
His suffering, the impulse that opposes pain
Was the one mortal feeling left. It passed;
Griefless and strong she waited like the gods.
But now his sweet familiar hue was changed
Into a tarnished greyness and his eyes
Dimmed over, forsaken of the clear light she loved.
Only the dull and physical mind was left,
Vacant of the bright spirit’s luminous gaze.
But once before it faded wholly back
He cried out in a clinging last despair,
“Sâvithrî, Sâvithrî, O Sâvithrî,
Lean down, my soul, and kiss me while I die.”
And even as her pallid lips pressed his,
He failed, losing last sweetness of response;
His cheek pressed down her golden arm. She sought
His mouth still with her living mouth, as if
She could persuade his soul back with her kiss;
Then grew aware they were no more alone.
Something had come there conscious, vast and dire.
Near her she felt a silent shade immense
Chilling the noon with darkness for its back.
She knew that visible Death was standing there
And Suthyavân had passed from her embrace.

(To be continued)

*

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3 Comments

  1. Anurag Banerjee said,

    April 23, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    K.D. Sethna alias Amal Kiran’s notes on the aforesaid lines of “Savitri” are as follows:

    • With the fullstop removed after line 675 the next has the variant:

    And is the law to which my life is born.

    • Line 681: “soul” as variant for “heart”.

  2. Prema Nandakumar said,

    April 24, 2013 at 4:24 am

    Dear Anurag:
    This is a great experience. Fancy the divine patience of the poet to take up this version and revise it almost completely! What deep attachment to “the most wonderful poem” in the Mahabharata!
    Thank you for making this draft available.
    Prema

  3. surendra singh chouhan said,

    April 24, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    Dear Anurag ,

    This is wonderful experience to read through these first drafts…
    Thank you !
    You are digging deep and bringing out the hidden treasures to astonish and delight us the fortunate reader

    Surendra


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